John McCoy an Illustrator and Fine Artist based in Cincinnati, Ohio. His work is predominantly digitally and traditionally painted illustrations, created for various venues and projects, including public installation, murals, magazines, and books.
I’m working in Alpena, Michigan for All Saints Parish on a 10 x 20’ Mural depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus entitled “The Crucifixion”. My design is an altar piece adorning the tabernacle and center of the sanctuary of St. Anne Catholic Church of All Saints Parish. My work “Communion of Saints”, created in 2016, surrounds the altar piece with 62 Saints in Adoration.
“The Crucifixion” is a portrayal of abandonment to the Father’s will, focusing on Jesus’ gaze toward the Father during His passion. The Saints look to Jesus and Jesus looks to the Father. The painting follows Jesus’ words from Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. Details in the design relate visually to the tabernacle and point respectfully to the Eucharistic presence. The work is scheduled to be blessed and dedicated by Most Reverend Steven Raica, Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord on June 1st, 2018.
“We must learn to see Him. If we know Him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible."
-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Stay tuned for painting process videos and project updates on the
Most Reverend David Walkowiak, Bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids blessed the finished 5x12’ mural entitled “One in the Body of Christ” on April 13th after 8:30AM Mass at St. Jude’s, adjacent to All Saints Academy’s Middle School campus where the work will be installed (the Diocese published a blog post with photos of the blessing: http://catholicschools4u.org/all-saints-academy-unveils..)
“One in the Body of Christ” depicts the namesakes of the four founding parishes of All Saints Academy: with the Blessed Sacrament centrally placed, and Saints Jude, Isidore, and Alphonsus adoring on the left and right. A depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Perpetual Help is compositionally seated at the left side of the Eucharistic Presence, corresponding to the position of the infant Jesus in the original Byzantine icon, and analogous to her position at Jesus’ right side during the Crucifixion. This particular image of Mary was chosen for its significance to the local Parish of St. Alphonsus, where the icon is specially venerated by the Redemptorists Congregation of the Catholic Church. Eight other Saints are depicted in Adoration on the left and right, with an overall equal presence of male and female Saints from all centuries of the Church’s history. Each Saint was chosen by All Saints Academy as dedicated exemplars of ASA’s Vision as a Catholic School under the categories of Faith, Learning, Loving, and Serving. Aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary and founding Parish Saints, these exemplary Saints are depicted left to right in historical chronology:
St. Cecilia - Music and the Arts
St. Sebastian - Military and Athletics
St. Albert the Great - Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM)
St. Joan of Arc - Defense of the Faith
St. Juan Diego - American Evangelization
St. Kateri Tekakwitha - Stewardship of Nature
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton - Catholic Education
St. Teresa of Calcutta - Charitable Service
I drove up to Grand Rapids, Michigan to begin my project on February 26th. The vibrancy of the educational environment at All Saints Academy that I came to know during the course of the project was met by my first impressions visiting the Middle School campus. I spent the first week setting up a studio space for the painting and getting to know the staff and students of ASA. I toured the 4 founding Parishes before heading back for a week to attend a Baptism and Retreat in Cincinnati. During that time I felt the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence as I fleshed out a digital design for the mural. In the following two weeks, in Grand Rapids, a strong movement of inspiration allowed me to finish the design, assemble the canvas, and begin painting. I spent the remainder of the Season of Lent climbing uphill in the painting process. After Holy Week and Easter in Cincinnati I returned to work in Grand Rapids with a grace-filled momentum until the completion of the mural on April 12th.
In retrospect what has struck me most was a quiet moment with the painting at the close of the project. Looking at the painting, I felt like a vessel. The painting was the work of God and I was merely the instrument He used. Earlier in my career I understood this more as an idea, but this time it was vivid and tangible. I’m humbled by this. Feelings of inadequacy and awe simultaneously arise in me when I come face to face with the realization that God is working through me, and I know this is the way it will be with all my future projects.
Watch time-lapse painting process videos of the ASA mural.
I’ll be working in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a mural for All Saints Academy, a Catholic Middle School. I’m super excited! I will begin work next week. The timing of this job within the season of Lent, I believe, will place me in a position of spiritual observation, where God will work in me in a special way. I feel God constantly swaps my positioning in life so that I remain an observer. A disposition of observation toward what God chooses to place before me will keep me vigilant to the Holy Spirit, keeping things fresh and allowing the Spirit to work. God knows everything about me and my unique set of character qualities; with infinite specificity He knows what I need and when I need it in order for me to be the best version of myself.
I believe God will be both helping me to accomplish good works (a mural painting for one) and preparing me for the plans He has in store for me after Grand Rapids. I estimate the project to take approximately 6 weeks, and I’ll be making a few return trips interspersed within that time frame. The painting will be 4x10’, with incorporation of the namesakes of the four local parishes which founded All Saints Academy: Blessed Sacrament, St. Alphonsus, St. Isidore, and St. Jude. I will of course be documenting the painting process with videos on YouTube and Facebook and will keep everyone posted about the progress.
I always look at big projects like this as a gift from God and as a purposeful part of His plans. I’m grateful to All Saints Academy for giving me the opportunity to create this artwork and to stay within the faith community. As with the “Communion of Saints” commission in Alpena, Michigan, I believe the Holy Spirit works through the fellowship that develops while living and working within a faith community in a new place. I look forward to the good things God has in store in Grand Rapids, even though I will miss friends and family back home for a while.
Stay tuned for more updates on Facebook and YouTube!
Consider the analogy present within this phrase: Life as God’s work of art
My life is a painting. The same techniques and process of layers of paint and the slow ascent toward completion parallels life’s course, and it is especially apparent to me in most of my conversations with God (prayer). There’s always a phase during each painting process where I’m a little unsure of what the next step is, or how it will all come together. During these times I have faith because of all my past experiences when I recognized God’s hand helping me bring paintings to completion. During these times my faith in painting and my faith in life bleed through to the same page in my soul, and there is beauty in that.
The uncertainty during the mid stage of a painting feels similar to the uncertainty of my 20’s, and the same God works in the microcosm of my creations and the grandeur of His own. My life is a masterpiece He is working on, and though their is suffering in the process, I can rest in gratitude for the gift of sharing in His creativity.
Man, I’ve got to write more! Why so long since my last blog? Well, there’s a lot that’s happened. For one I went back up to Alpena, for All Saints Day and to visit with friends. It was so good to see everyone again, and spiritually to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to me in new ways. There are a lot of exciting potentials, and the Holy Spirit seems to whisper promise near every unturned leaf.
My art career is moving, and the devil would like to distort the reality. At the same time, the mystery of life is what we have to trust in; that is, Mystery is the Holy Spirit. I’ve taken up the 33 Day Marian Consecration through Father Michael Gaitley’s book. A lot of promising things are also happening in the Cincinnati area through Young Adult Groups that I’m a part of that are growing in new ways day by day. That too is a very enriching aspect of my life!
All Saints Parish has installed new wood and carpeted floors in the sanctuary space and church. Check it out—it’s the header photo here. I was thinking as I drove up how it’s been the exact length of the project in Alpena last year since I’ve last written. Another exciting thing happening is through the Cincinnati Illustrators Group that I’m a part of – they’ve been accepted as an official chapter of the USA Urban Sketchers Group and more and more we’re participating in group sketch events throughout the Cincinnati Area.
I’ve found God uses all the separate pieces which are somehow related for His plans – all the pieces of my life and of your life. I said to a friend recently “The Holy Spirit works in waves. He’s gathered up a group of individuals for each movement and works in groups because there is efficaciousness in numbers.” That spirit of unity is integral to our faith as Catholic Christians. Catholic in one sense means “Universal”. And we all play a role! I play a role with my Sacred Art. You play a role with your talents too. We’re together on this. Take courage and have faith and let’s see what God does next!
I’d like to add another reflection:
A lot – correction: All of my ministry is letting my light shine, letting my talents shine, that I’m actively using all that God has and is giving me to glorify Him. I couldn’t stress enough how real this is. It happens in real ways, actual ways. As you see in my painting “Everything in the Service of God”, maintaining a car, if you have a gift for that, or tending to a garden, if you have a gift for that is serving God and letting your light shine (Even better if that becomes communal, public, and serves others). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about me. Not in a selfish way, but in the way of analyzing in my mind and heart what “you” means (the “you” that is “you”, truly you). We are all so driven to be ourselves and to fit in. God’s packaged us with that two-fold kit to serve others and glorify Him. We yearn for authenticity of self and the realization of that self within the rest of the human race.
Father Joe, the Pastor of All Saints Parish said in his homily on All Saints Day said “When you get to heaven God isn’t going to ask you ‘Why weren’t you more like Saint Francis? Why weren’t you more like Saint Teresa of Avila?’.. He’s going to ask you ‘Why weren’t you “you”?”
A friend of mine said to me one of her favorite songs is the church hymn “The Summons”, that she loves the lyrics:
Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
We were talking about just this. Being authentically the unique and beautiful you that God made you. Because this is what life is all about. Being you is the greatest enemy to evil.
Saint Pope John Paul II said: “ it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.”
He is Jesus, and the world constantly tries to stifle your most genuine choices. I can recall many times where it suddenly came to me what choice I should make, which demanded an authentic and vulnerable revelation of myself to others. Immediately the devil attacked me, knowing the goodness that could come from such a revelation. In fact what would come from letting my light shine in this genuine way (the light of Jesus), was nothing less than the grace of God transfiguring me and those around me. These are the ways God seeks to work through you and I.
I will include the full quote from St. John Paul II. Please take courage with me in letting the light Jesus gives you to shine! Let us shine forth our lights into the world, in our work and in all of our interactions with our fellow brothers and sisters:
"It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
Here we are on the last day of this beautiful month of July. God has truly blessed our area with good weather. I hope this blog entry finds you in good spirits!
Remember that time God said “My power is made perfect in your weakness”? The first human response is to run from the idea of appearing weak, because you fear that you’ll get eaten alive by the world. Weakness has a quality that calls God to enter the world through the people who both manifest and witness it. What I mean is that if one person honestly displays their own weakness, it will pull out of the crowd of people witnessing that revealing action, a radical response, either of good or evil. If you display weakness, some will try to take advantage of you, and others will abandon and reject you so as to not be associated with you, out of fear of what might happen to their own well-being when they associate with you and your weakness. Others might respond positively and with radical good. They might be inspired by your bravery to reveal your weakness. They might feel better about their own weakness and feel less intimidated about revealing it. Somewhere in that, God can work through your weakness!
One concrete example of how God can work through your weakness is this: If you are not always displaying power and success, and you choose to also display your weakness, a witnessing person may be able to see their weakness for what it is, and realize that there can be success for them in spite of it.
You get it, right? So here goes a display of my weakness, for the purpose of God potentially using it for good. I often know what to do when things are going well for me. I know what to use with the parts of me which are present in my mind: the talents, the actions, and all the components of my life. But please don’t expect me to perfectly command my weakness. Besides, it is God’s work to reveal his power in my weakness.
The truth about me and the weakness in my life is that things don’t go well all the time and I’m not always happy. I’m frustrated at times. I feel weak, unfulfilled, and depressed at times. Jobs in my career are seemingly few and far between, and I barely have enough money to pay my bills. Instead of realizing that a career in the arts comes with unique demands and calls for commitment of all of my time, some people ridicule me for “not getting a real job” or for “being lazy” or “stupid”. In fact, my commitment in sticking to creating art for God is considered “foolishness” by some. There is in this process of struggling uphill toward my goals a plenitude of internal battling. Often times I’m lead to thoughts that I’m prideful for sticking to my goals, or illusions that I’m doing it all for the wrong reasons. Basically, I face waves of thoughts that if listened to and accepted, would lead to the end of me creating art. Sometimes the only thing that helps me to defend myself is to recognize that God is not so destructive and would not plant such destructive thoughts into my head.
It’s crucially important to stay positive and to understand God’s promises of personal fulfillment and blessing, especially when you’re genuinely striving to accomplish His will. Of course your striving is imperfect and you may not even know what God’s will for your life is, but you can at least desire to desire God’s will. Like this prayer written by Thomas Merton:
Prayer to Do God’s Will
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following Your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You
Does in fact please You.
And I hope that I will never do anything
Apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though,
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
And You will never leave me
to face my struggles alone.
Friends, stay strong in God. Accept your weakness as a vessel made to be filled with God’s strength. Be receptive to Him filling your soul with goodness, pushing aside all that does not matter, and leading you to the next thing!
Today it is rainy, but today it is new! Thank God for the beautiful and simple mystery, which unfolds in newness each morning. Here it is, both in my relationships and in my art. God shows the way! Praise God!
The mural job is wrapping up; the altar piece is too! “Everything in the Service of God” won both Best of Show and the Religious Theme Award in Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relic’s 7th Annual Art Show and Sale, and here’s the time-lapse painting process video behind that painting: Everything in the Service of God – Painting Process. It’s a painting about two friends who live Religious vocations and their holy friendship. I know them personally, and having known of their friendship beforehand, was inspired in two individual moments by the countenance and character of them. I was especially inspired by seeing other facets of them which lay outside of their direct religious vocations, but at the same time bore the mark of serving God.
What is it in people that criticizes serving God in simple and mundane ways, as in hobbies or in any number of human behaviors and characteristics? Whatever it is, it does no good in the scheme of God’s plans to make the world holy, and to bring the Kingdom of Heaven into fullness through the Saints and Saints-in-the-making (God’s hands and feet here on Earth).
I feel called to create more work that touches on Christ’s presence in the unexpected, in the little ways, and in all the ways which receive little attention but which truly glorify God. My career itself at times bears a similar resemblance in meaningful ways! We must always remember that God desires to work through human weakness.
There are many projects lined up and waiting to begin, as well as some potential projects in the future. God willing they will happen!
Thanks for reading my blog, and until next time, may God shower you with His abundant blessings!
Things have been really busy lately! This is a fruitful time in my artistic development! I’m working on finishing an altar piece to be installed in a client’s personal prayer room. It’s going very well and I’m quite happy with the painting. I’m also working with a team of artists through the Fitton Center for Creative Art’s StreetSpark Program to paint a public mural for the City of Hamilton, Ohio.
With the altar piece, I’m personally growing and learning from it spiritually, and improving and learning new techniques in my craft. For instance, I developed a new means of securing my GoPro camera for filming to the ceiling with a new clamp mount I designed. I did this because the altar piece is a much larger piece than recent works and it helps to not have a stand coming up from the floor which could block my working space. Also, I recently got a new brush with several points that creates a series of parallel marks on the canvas and builds up unique texture through careful paint application. A good example for you to see of this texture, is a “cross-hatching” effect you can see if you view my painting “The Contemplative Mother Like Mary” in my gallery (click the image to enlarge it and you’ll see what I mean).
Even after just the first three days of work on our Hamilton Mural Project, we’ve prepared the wall with two coats of gesso (a type of primer), gridded the wall into 4x4ft sections, and completed transferring over half of the drawing of the mural’s design to the wall. I feel that working larger has many perks that end up balancing out the time saved from working on small works of art. Small works of art can often become tedious and more sensitive because they’re viewed more intimately.
Beyond my work but closely related to it, I have been blessed to be able to make it to many daily Masses and allow God to strengthen my faith and increase my proficiency in making the most of my time. I’m happy to say that my life has become mainly three things: Faith, family, and art, and under family lies all my friendships and relationships, even those that may lead to a family of my own, God willing.
Additionally, if you saw a sneak peek of my recently finished painting entitled “Everything in the Service of God” on either my Facebook or Instagram page, you’ll be interested to know I have since that time framed and entered that work into Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relic’s 7th Annual Art Show and Sale (and my work, if accepted into the show, will of course be for sale!). My work “Portrait of Brendan” is still on display until July 7th, 2017 at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, OH.
Please include in the comments below any questions or suggestions you may have for future blog posts, and or any comments you’d like to share. Until next time, God be with you and take care!